By Frederick Kruger
The local parish must embody ecological solutions. If the Orthodox Church and her agencies do not provide a whole witness for right Christian behavior, then who will? The modern world brings challenges to the local parish that are substantially different from the demands of the past: secularism is more virulent; the social and cultural fabric does not support Orthodoxy; distractions and temptations abound from media, sports, entertainment and a myriad of local issues. Faced with these challenges, in addition to the cycle of services, sermons and pastoral counseling, local issues of fund raising, baptisms and classes, how can one more issue such as ecology find a place in the parish?
Some pastors and parishioners see ecology as competing with an already overloaded schedule of parish concerns. But is this an accurate way to view ecology?
Ecology, in an Orthodox context, is not a new thing: it is the ancient “economia” of salvation as applied to daily life; it is the context of all issues; most especially, it is God’s providence extended through human agency into social activity. To allow this process to begin, a list of introductory principles and functions follow. The process of awakening parish ecological activity is divided into four general areas of focus: priest, parish, and parishioners.
How does the local pastor begin and what can he do? There are many activities embraced within the framework of a healing spiritual-ecological activity. The basic theme for the pastor is teacher by example. The parish priest starts in his home and begins to make deliberate, step-by-step changes, modeling the direction in which the parish will proceed.
The parish priest is the shepherd of the flock. He demonstrates the virtues of temperance and restraint and teaches that immersion into the consumer mentality involves the sins of greed, gluttony and lust, which lead to what the Fathers call “insensibility.” He invokes the Orthodox saints to obtain inspiration on working with the deeper elements of Western culture. He prays for the spiritual growth and the ecological awakening of his parishioners and the whole community. He teaches the acquisition of the virtues and family ascesis as defined within the gospel as it relates to consumerism and lifestyle. He embraces elementary ecological practices, such as recycling, the elimination of all styrofoam, and the use of recycled papers.
He offers an occasional class as well as a series of sermons on Orthodoxy and the ecological predicament which is open to other interested people. He explains that ecological degradation involves hidden and unaddressed sin. The priest transmits a spiritual vision of Christ in all things. His emphasis is that ecological practice is not a new thing, but the traditional Orthodox patristic teachings as applied to the decadence of modern culture.
Essentially, the priest presents the ecological crisis so that it gets to peoples’ hearts. Without this felt dimension of ecological sin, there is little motivation for change to take place. This is a pastoral responsibility. Overall, the priest’s goal is to teach the Orthodox theology of creation and its implications for lifestyle and to emphasize these as integral elements of Orthodox Christian practice.
The parish represents the Church within the local community. The basic theme is education. An array of services, programs, and teachings can be assembled to assist in understanding the modern ecological predicament and to help parishioners embody solutions in their lives. Exposure to Christian ecological literature will exert a subtle effect in changing attitudes and pave the way toward a whole Orthodox way of life. Establish a small library of Orthodox publications (books and pamphlets) on ecology, a class or lecture series on Orthodoxy and care of creation.
Observe the Ecumenical Patriarch’s decree that the first day of the liturgical year (September 1st) is now the Day of Prayers for God’s Creation. This should be celebrated with special prayers, blessings upon created nature and petitions for healing the environmental degradations within our communities.
There are a number of challenges that may be considered – see the relevant section in this pamphlet. The consistent goal through all of these programs and practices is the transformation of souls while simultaneously reducing our negative impacts upon nature. The principle latent in all of these programs is that healing the environment happens as individual parishioners are healed. This means bringing the assumptions, attitudes and worldview of parishioners into an Orthodox understanding of culture and creation. As the parish strives for an Orthodox Christian lifestyle, an invigorating spirit and vitality will emerge that will help to show the way into further steps. These activities will extend the parish’s example of Christian behavior into the wider community.
The parishioners implement simple and obvious solutions to ecological problems through the application of traditional Orthodox teachings on food, clothing, possessions, employment, home life and livelihood generally. For parishioners application is the basic theme.
As parishioners are educated to the traditional worldview of Christ in all things, to the seriousness of ecological degradation, to the relationship between personal salvation and cosmic transformation, and to the realization that pollution is fundamentally a moral and a spiritual problem, the importance of repentance will be emphasized.
Parishioners discuss their attitudes toward food, clothing, work, education, media, consumerism, entertainment, technology and right livelihood. Ecological healing begins in the home. Parishioners are presented with the opportunity to deepen their spiritual striving by the intentional acquisition of the virtues. This provides spiritual direction for the conduct of the home and emphasizes that a soul-deadening life of luxury is fought by combating excess.
Basically, parishioners need to get involved. They need to get out on the firing line of activity This provides a challenge which will inspire some to rise up to new levels of leadership within the parish. This opportunity already exists to some extent, but ecology provides a clear arena for individual responsibility.